9 Feb 2020
The Fisher-Function has routed itself so thoroughly in my neural circuitry that I am no longer just echoing and citing k-punk (at an almost embarrassingly high frequency) but anticipating its thoughts accurately. Upon reading some posts on Nietzsche in an attempt to help me get some bearings on the notorious philosopher, I came across this passage from a 2006 post that spectacularly wires together Nietzsche and Celebrity Big Brother:
[…] because Big Brother and reality TV have effaced those areas of popular culture in which a working class that aspired to more than ‘wealth’ or ‘fame’ once excelled. Its rise has meant a defeat for that over-reaching proletarian drive to be more, (I am nothing but should be everything), a drive which negated Social Facts by inventing Sonic Fictions, which despised ‘ordinariness’ in the name of the strange and the alien.
This “proletarian drive to be more” is the same drive I noted in my post on surpluses from a couple of months back, where I discussed ”the craving for a more that is almost never satisfied” that exists amongst the working class (having not read any of these k-punk posts previously). Whereas I mentioned this craving in a kind of off-the-cuff way, Fisher adds an important political dimension to it; namely, by explicating how this drive has had to be explicitly quashed from capitalist realist popular culture, through a veneration of the “ordinary” and the “relatable”. Fisher’s then-contemporary point of reference for this is Celebrity Big Brother but the cultural impulse remains strong to this day, evidenced in the latest iteration of reality tee-vee (Love Island) and “everyday” sitcoms (see the hype that accompanied the Gavin and Stacey Christmas comeback special). Popular culture continually opts for the “ordinary”, “relatable” and “comfortable”, never inviting the working classes to desire anything more.
This desire and striving for working-class excellence and achievement, explicitly defined against its dominant bourgeois opponent (two kids, a nice piece of real estate in the home counties, and a managerial job on £70k+…), is not the phantasmatic invention of desperate leftists idealising the working class. At one point, at least in Britain, it was a significant social and cultural force. Simon Reynold’s book on post-punk from 1978-84, Rip It Up and Start Again, which I’ve been reading lately, attests to this over and over again, detailing the background stories of numerous post-punk groups from the era and their position on post-punk as a genre, aesthetic and philosophy. Post-punk, of course, was the protest against the ossification of Punk, its solidification into a Punk™ that fetishised a kind of ordinary, “authentic”, overtly macho, “common-sense” Punk that soon became the Oi! movement. In post-punk, therefore, one found swathes of working-class artists (John Lydon, Mark E. Smith, and the late Andy Gill of Gang of Four being just a few examples) resisting their mandatory reduction to the “ordinary” by virtue of them being poor or ostensibly “uneducated”, doing so through a whole-hearted embrace of sonic experimentation and genre cross-contamination (dub and reggae were particularly big influences). And, most importantly of all, these post-punk artists weren’t experimentalist fringe nobodies but people situated on the bleeding edge of popular (music) culture, hyped up by the then healthy music press (NME, Melody Maker, Sounds, etc) with major label contracts and big record sales. Post-punk became the release valve for the “proletarian drive to be more” and then routed it back to the public, amplifying the proletarian drive. That kind of hyperstitional system is pretty much completely absent from the current social and cultural landscape, and its revivification should be a key long-term goal of contemporary cultural and political struggle.
The constant presence of class in Fisher’s writings, both conceptually and above all else affectively (evident in the sharp wit and resentment of the ruling class that permeated all his work), is one of my favourite things about it. Because, and I know this is not a particularly original insight to make, but class, any discussion or even just acknowledgement of class, is just completely and utterly absent from (British) popular culture right now. Not even Corbyn did much to shift this, perpetually opting for the moral critique of austerity capitalism (as indicated by his favourite soundbite, “grotesque levels of inequality”) rather than an advocacy for class conflict (he/Labour very rarely used the words “working-class” or identified them as their driving subject).
This is why watching Parasite at the Barbican yesterday was, above all else, so completely refreshing. I haven’t seen a film that depicted class conflict so brilliantly perhaps ever (disclaimer: I do not watch many films), and key to this was the kind of casual, humorous spearing of the upper class family in the film by the poor under-employed family who are the protagonists. This wasn’t even class resentment, it surpassed and transcended resentment by taking it for granted (yeah, of course rich people are useless parasites, that’s why we’re mocking them) and using it as the foundations for a dark and ironic humour that repeatedly put the audience in stitches. We need more fictions like that in the realm of popular culture.